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Ryan Chappell began the season as UND's fourth-string running back. The former Grand Forks Central standout was told he'd start the season by returning punts and kickoffs.

Ryan Chappell began the season as UND's fourth-string running back. The former Grand Forks Central standout was told he'd start the season by returning punts and kickoffs.

"I was fine with that, as long as I could help out the team," Chappell said.

As UND prepares for Saturday's NCAA Division II playoff game at Nebraska-Omaha, Chappell no longer is buried on the depth chart. The redshirt freshman has had a meteoric rise to the No. 1 spot, punctuated by last week's 235-yard performance against Winona State in the first round of the playoffs.

Earlier this week, he was a first-team all-North Central Conference selection. He didn't expect the honor.

"Ryan Konrath (a Sioux freshman quarterback) called and said. 'Congratulations,'" Chappell said. "I said, 'For what.' He said I made first team. I was surprised."


Chappell no longer is a surprise to UND opponents. He's been the key to a Sioux rushing attack that has produced impressive numbers over the last four games. UND has rushed 157 times for 924 yards since its regular-season 21-20 loss at Omaha on Oct. 14.

The numbers posted by Chappell during the last month - one of UND's best four-game spurts of running the ball in recent memory - are even more impressive.

Chappell has carried the ball 61 times for 513 yards, an average of 8.4 yards per rush.

The emergence of Chappell also gives the Sioux something they haven't had in a while - explosive backfield speed. Chappell's 4.37 time in the 40-yard dash, combined with his ability to make cuts in the open field, has presented another problem for opponents in recent weeks.

Chappell's success has resulted from a maturation process he's gone through this season.

"I'm getting used to the speed of the game," he said. "The reads and checks are coming along by watching a lot of film. And the older guys like Trent Christensen, Brandon Strouth and Chris Beatty, are helping me out. They give me advice for everything."

Beatty, who is in his sixth season at UND, said Chappell's play in recent weeks has resulted in a more diversified offense. Last season, Beatty rushed for more than 1,000 yards. But he was a far different type of runner than Chappell.

"We used to grind it out," Beatty said. "Now, we have weapons I haven't seen since I've been here. But the offensive line was the final piece of the puzzle. We had to piece together the line. And if you have a good offensive line, it makes everything a lot easier.


"A lot of times, we're not getting touched for 7 or 8 yards."

UND's 404 rushing yards last week were the most since the 1996 season against St. Cloud State.

"We have a lot of confidence in what we're doing offensively," UND coach Dale Lennon said.

UND will take that confidence to Omaha, where the Sioux haven't won since 1995. The Sioux rushed for only 73 yards on 23 carries last month at Caniglia Field.

That could change in the upcoming meeting, considering UND's recent rushing success.

Chappell, meanwhile, hasn't become too caught up in his rushing success of late.

The Sioux first saw signs of an explosive back at Northern Iowa, where Chappell's speed resulted in 121 yards on nine carries and two touchdowns in UND's 35-31 win against the Division I-AA team.

"Ever since that Northern Iowa game, things have changed," Chappell said. "I'm trying to keep everything in perspective and try not let it go to my head."


Beatty, meanwhile, said the play of Chappell has given the Sioux more options on offense, leaving opponents guessing more than usual against UND.

"We're at the point where we're not that predictable," Beatty said. "That's a great thing. But we were predictable last week. We were going to run Chappell up the middle and he was going to score."

And Chappell scored five touchdowns, giving him 15 on the season - the most by any UND freshman in history.

"It seems like everyone is pulling together at the right time," Chappell said.

Reach Nelson at 780-1268, (800) 477-6572 ext. 268 or wnelson@gfherald.com .

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